A Conversation with Atlantic Records / Rolling Stone Contest Finalists Lelia Broussard and Ewan Currie of The Sheepdogs
Mike Ragogna: Alright, Lelia Broussard and Ewan Currie of The Sheepdogs, you're the finalists in a contest sponsored by Garnier Fructis where the winner gets a contract with Atlantic Records and the cover of Rolling Stone. Recently, you appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. How did it go?
Lelia Broussard: Well, we got there and they had us both write a song about an audience member, so we had about a half an hour to interview the girl and write silly songs about her. I had a total blast doing it because my band and myself are kind of silly people and we like to joke around. It was very fun to get up there and play a, kind of, joke song. I liked it.
MR: The audience member was a good sport about it?
LB: Oh, yeah, she was great. She was wonderful. We asked her who her least favorite sibling was and she totally went with it. It was great. (laughs)
MR: Ewan, you guys had to write a song as well, right?
Ewan Currie: Yeah. It was kinda weird because they told us that we were gonna be on ...Jimmy Fallon, but we'd have to make up a song in 20 minutes and then play it instead of one of our own songs. It was pretty wild.
MR: You had a little time to chat with the victim?
EC: Yeah. You're in this music room with a little gear and they brought her in and we asked her some questions and someone wrote all of her answers down on a little piece of paper and then we went to work. It was really fun, actually, it turned out really well.
MR: You both also played Bonnaroo, and Ewan, you said, "It was sweaty, dirty...and I loved it."
EC: (laughs) Yeah, I like music festivals. It was super hot and, you know, you get that glistening skin from sweating and it's all dusty so it clings to you, so you're just caked in mud. But you sort of just kinda go with the attitude that everyone is like this here, everyone is sweaty and gross right now. But it's fun to kinda let your freak flag fly a little bit.
MR: Lelia, you wear warpaint on stage.
LB: That's right.
LB: (laughs) Well, I started doing that because my album is called Masquerade and so shortly after, I did it for a photo shoot as a visual expression of the album. I'm also a really big fan of David Bowie and the glam rock kind of feel, so it's partially a nod to that era. It's really, kind of, a visual expression of what the album means.
MR: It's a fairly new album, and Ewan, The Sheepdogs have a new album as well.
EC: Yeah. Well, this is our third full-length album, and we also have an EP out that were all self-released, and this last album we recorded over the summer on my computer. We just took all the time we needed for it and it was made with a lot of love. We got to put all these sorts of medleys on it that sort of flow into each other. I really like recording that way.
MR: The Sheepdogs mixes up blues, rock, and, it seems, whatever you feel like for the song. What goes into the songwriting process for you?
EC: You know, ideas will pop into my head when I'm driving around or something and I just kind of sneak away and sing it into my voice recorder on my phone. Then, I just kinda hash them out and get together with the boys and we try to get the arrangement down and try to color the song with as many interesting elements as possible. My old man is a classical composer, and he would always point out things in his music like contrast and harmony and a lot of those things that can take music from ordinary to something special. So, in that same way, we just try to approach it like a craft and keep refining and honing those skills.
MR: Ewan, you're from Saskatoon?
EC: That's right.
MR: Who influenced you musically while growing up?
EC: Well, I listened to a lot of old-school music like The Beatles, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, and The Allman Brothers, but I listened to a lot of different stuff as well. I listened to all kinds of music of the 20th century, but predominantly, it was that old school music that influenced me because we liked a lot of the sounds that you find in the older styles of music.
MR: It seems that a lot of bands are moving in the direction of openly paying homage and being influenced by classic rock groups and sounds. Would you say that that's the case with you guys?
EC: I suppose. I mean, it's not a conscious effort for us to keep in tune with that kind of music, we just make the music that we like. We let the music that we love influence us, so it just happens to be linked to that old school sound. We're not trying to be a part of a trend or anything, it's really just as simple as us hearing good music and letting it influence us. We're also big fans of songs that have a nice structure, which is what you find in a lot of classic songwriting.
MR: Lelia, your roots are in Lafayette, Louisiana, right?
LB: Yeah, that's right.
MR: Who are some of the artists and bands that influenced you and your work?
LB: Well, I grew up going to a ton of music festivals and seeing jazz and blues groups, which is a big part of Louisiana culture. My mom was a huge music fan as well. I grew up listening to Paul Simon, Elton John, and The Beatles, but I feel like the list of people that influence my music is ever-changing. There's so much amazing music out there and anything that I hear that's inspiring is always an influence, you know? For me, it's always changing...I love hip-hop and pop and all sorts of music. I like to try to take a little bit from everything and come out with something that's eclectic and new sounding.
MR: Yeah, and one of your more interesting songs topically is "Satellite," the one that apparently is about a lonely robot. (laughs)
LB: (laughs) Well, actually I had written that song and wasn't thinking about a robot at all. But I wrote it and we were in the studio with my producer Dan Romer, who is also in my band. We were kind of stuck at this particular point, it was three in the morning, and Dan started playing this little organ sound that for some reason reminded me of a robot and I thought "Oh, this is perfect!" Then, I made up a whole story in my head about the robot being in love and is stuck inside a video game and can't get to his lover. (laughs) It was just so sad, and I was such a dork about it that I started to cry. (laughs) I told everyone that that was what the song was really about--a robot that's in love but can't get to his lover. (laughs) So, that's where that came from.
MR: (laughs) The song doesn't quite resolve, so where would you see your robot a year from now?
LB: I think he's still in the video game, which is sad but true, you know? (laughs)
MR: (laughs) Yeah. That's great. Now, one of your most popular songs is "Hipster Bitch," which seems like a commentary on the whole faux hipster phenomena.
LB: Well, that's the oldest song on the record and I wrote it about five years ago. That was based on something that actually happened to me. I had gone to this bar to meet this dude that I was sort of dating, and I walked into the bar and he was making out with this hipster lady. So, I had a writing session the next day with a friend of mine and I sort of relayed the whole story to him and he thought it was hilarious and that we should write a song about it so we did. But people seem to have latched on to that song and think it's a funny song about hipsters and it's great. (laughs)
MR: I can imagine that this whole experience has been both fun and challenging in the fact that you guys have not only been competing this whole time, but it also seems like you are bonding because you have been appearing and traveling together for the competition. Do you feel that this experience has forced you to also grow a bit as performers and musicians?
EC: I think it does it the way that it puts us in a lot of different positions, you know, for example, when we had to write a song in 20 minutes on ...Jimmy Fallon. (laughs) The act of playing on TV or at music festivals or even doing a lot more interviews and such help you to sort of gain the experience that you need in this industry. I think it's definitely forced us to grow and change. I mean, I haven't really been able to set aside the time to write music or record anything, which is difficult.
LB: Right. That's kind of the more difficult part of this whole experience. It becomes a balancing act because there are so many more things to do for us now. We have to remind ourselves as a band that we still have to work on the music and stuff. But going back to the whole competition thing, I think that, for me, it's been really fantastic because the music industry is such a small world and I have so many friends in it that I look forward to the times when our paths cross. I don't think there's any reason for feeling overly competitive towards each other because I think we're both going to be doing this a long time and we should just be friendly.
EC: Yeah, I agree. It is a competition and we're competing for the same prize, but it's not like we're playing defensively against each other, you know? We're battling it out, but not literally. I mean, it is competitive, but we're sitting right next to each other now, just kinda chilling. (laughs)
MR: (laughs) It's just very easy when you watch shows like American Idol or The Voice to see that they're all very kind and supportive to each other in front of the cameras, but you wonder if that's really the case all the time, you know?
EC: Yeah, but this is different from those shows because on those shows, you're singing other people's songs and stuff, but we're still singing the songs that we sang last year and the year before. This is our music, we're just competing with our own art.
LB: Yeah. And I think the great thing about this is the fact that no one is asking us to change what we're already doing. The reason that we were picked for this is because they already liked what we were doing, so it's been great in that sense.
MR: That's right, good point. By the way, how did they choose all the contestants?
EC: In our case, our manager sent a demo to Atlantic.
LB: I actually didn't submit anything. Someone from Atlantic called me one night asking if I would be willing to do this, but I didn't even know this competition existed.
EC: Yeah, we weren't aware of it either. I was actually in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, when I heard about all of it. I had no idea what was really happening with it so I kinda just went back to my beer. (laughs)
MR: As I understand it--and for the readers--the way this competition works is that people go to www.rollingstone.com/choosethecover and vote based on everything you have up online, right?
LB: That's right.
MR: How many times have all of your friends and family voted?
EC: Many, many times, I'm sure. (laughs)
MR: And the winner will be announced August 2nd?
LB: Yeah, that's right. The voting ends July 1st. So, you've gotta get your votes in before then.
EC: Yeah, they'll also be uploading more content and performances onto the website, so you can check all of our stuff out there. Rolling Stone has done a pretty great job of keeping a constant stream of uploads on the website for people to look at.
MR: Now, I have to ask each of you this question: What will be your reaction to winning this competition?
EC: I'm gonna run naked through Downtown. (laughs)
LB: (laughs) Oh my God, I don't know. Maybe a shot of tequila or something. (laughs) I'll be really excited.
EC: I'm gonna drink a whole bottle of tequila. (laughs)
MR: What do you think it'll be like for your families?
LB: My mom got to see my play on ...Jimmy Fallon, which I know was really cool for her. She's just so excited and proud, and it just makes me feel really good to make them proud.
EC: Well, music is a huge part of my family all the way back to my uncles and grandparents, so they'd love it. My parents put me in piano lessons when I was five, so for me to be pursuing this career and have it look like it might actually work out is very exciting for them. They're very pleased.
MR: Are there any upcoming shows that people can check out before voting online?
LB: Well, I'm playing in LA at The Hotel Café, so that'll be fun. It's one of my favorite venues and they've been really supportive.
EC: We're doing a tour with this great Canadian band called The Sadies, which got cancelled earlier this year because one of the guys broke his arm. But we'll also be doing a ton of festivals this summer like the John Fogerty Festival and some others, so that'll be fun.
MR: Now, I know that you both are fairly fresh acts, but do you have any advice for new artists?
EC: I would say listen to as much music as possible.
LB: I agree completely. I would say, even though is seems like an obvious answer, to practice constantly--never put your instrument down. The way that I started was going to a lot of open mic nights because it's really important to get comfortable in front of an audience, and I think that's a great way to get started because it's terrifying to be in front of an audience if you've never done that before.
EC: It's like Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers that talks about the ten thousand hours you need to spend getting your reps in. You've got to get that practice, whether it's playing live in front of an audience or sitting in your room writing crappy song after crappy song. You've got to get that stuff out of the way in order to get better.
LB: You also have to have the resolve not to give up very easily. You've got to practice and work really, really hard to be great at anything, especially music.
MR: Yeah, you have to be very driven.
EC: Yeah, absolutely. We wouldn't be here today if we weren't.
MR: What are both of your thoughts on the music scene in general these days?
LB: I think there's so much incredible music out right now, but the difference between now and years past is the fact that you really just have to look for it, it's not necessarily stuff that you'd find on the radio. But I've been working on my own and touring for a really long time, and I think it's great because there are so many more opportunities for independent artists now because of the internet. So, I think it's a really exciting time because there are so many incredible artists out there.
EC: Yeah. I hate the music on the radio now. (laughs) I think it's lifeless and soulless. (laughs) But I look at bands like My Morning Jacket and The Black Keys and Dr. Dog, and to me, those bands represent the bands that are still able to produce the music that they wanted to. They were able to control their sound and people like and respect them because of it. Their records sound great, they're not forced into any boxes or anything, and I think it's great that bands like that are able to thrive.
MR: I really do admire the fact that the two of you are so dedicated to your art. Best of luck in the competition, I bet you're both going on to bigger and better things.
EC: Thanks so much.
LB: Thanks, Mike.
Transcribed by Evan Tyrone Martin